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Merino sheep were bred and run in the Kaniva District by squatters from the 1850s and 1860s. When the area was thrown open to selectors from 1875 onwards, sheep were run as the land was cleared. The squatters in this area probably acquired their sheep from the Hentys at Portland, who brought sheep of the Saxon strain from Germany. The Saxon strain of Merino sheep was given to the Elector of Saxony by the King of Spain, from where Merinos had been bred for 200 years. These were fine wool sheep and the wool was highly prized by the spinning and weaving mills in northern England. The textile industry in England at the time had the best technology in the world. Because the wool had to be sent to England by boat, the sheep were put through a sheep wash to remove dirt and vegetable matter and so sheepwashes were used. One such sheep wash was at Sandsmere, referred to as Bunyip, and there was another at Bills Gully. There were probably others as well, including at Cove Estate and Yarrock, and maybe more.
The size of land holdings gradually increased over the decades from the original selection of 320 acres. Consolidation of holdings meant that properties were as large as 1000 acres soon after the end of the Second World War and drought in 1945.
With the high prices paid for wool in 1951 - 52, referred to as the 'Korean wool boom', an era of prosperity came to the district with many farmers paying off debts and investing in sheds, machinery and fencing. Superphosphate was being used plentifully and rabbits were almost eradicated by the introduction of the Myxomatosis virus. As a result pastures were improved with the introduction of subterranean clover and trace elements. The carrying capacity of the land increased, and many more sheep were run on farms.
In the early 1950s and 60s, six or seven and sometimes more annual sheep sales were held in Kaniva with many thousands being offered and sold to buyers from the Wimmera, Mallee, Western District and South Australia, who were keen to buy the healthy, heavy wool cutting sheep bred in this district. The size and quality of the commercial sheep of the district were due primarily to the skill and dedication of the early stud masters in the district.
The earliest registered Merino Stud in the district was "FAIRVIEW" founded by J.L. Webb in 1893 in the Yanipy area. Ownership passed to his son, Oliver Webb and later to his daughter Mrs. Rene Lannin. Hynam (Saxon blood) was the foundation of the stud with later additions of "MERRYVILLE" and "LILLYMUR ESTATE" studs. This stud was later incorporated with the "LILLYMUR ESTATE" stud.
"LILLYMUR ESTATE" was founded by George Lannin in 1900 at Lillimur with the purchase of two rams and one hundred ewes from W. Smith & Co "HYNAM STATION", Hynam S.A. The "HYNAM" stud was founded in 1844 with Saxon blood ewes. In 1937 George Lannin took his son Ivan G. Lannin into partnership and the stud was carried on under the name of G. Lannin and son until 1949 when ownership of the stud passed to Ivan G. Lannin.
"HANNATON" In 1919 this stud was founded by John Hicks at Kaniva with sheep from "BARUNAH PLAINS" Mt Hesse Vic and Peppin blood rams from "BUNDEMAR" N.S.W. In 1925 the stud was taken over by R.J. Hicks and later by his nephew Peter Hicks, who together with his wife Sally and son Jonathan trade now as "HANNATON PARTNERSHIP". This stud is one of the few in the Wimmera which conduct an annual ram sale, selling both Horned and Poll rams over a wide area with great success.
"LAWLOIT" This stud was founded by John Meagher of Lawloit in 1924, with sheep of Saxon bloodlines from "MAWALLOK STATION" Beaufort Vic. Later additions were from "MERRYVILLE" and "BUNDEMAR" studs. In 1989 G.J. Meagher was taken into the partnership. A Poll Merino section was established in 1954.
In the period from the mid 1945 to the early 1970s these district studs sold regularly from 100 - 200 rams annually to keen district and other breeders, because of their size and wool qualities. In that period all four studs competed at State and local shows against sheep from Vic and interstate with a great deal of success, gaining championship honours repeatedly. The studs were highly regarded by their peers and the Kaniva district studs were considered to be the best in Victoria at that time. Later studs were founded by a younger generation of stud masters.
"BLANDAN" Poll Merino Stud was founded at Kaniva by D.C. and D.B. Williams in 1948 with sheep of Collinsville S.A. bloodlines and later Poll Boonoke N.S.W. rams.
"BUDJIK" was established in 1954 by J.F. Meyer at Kaniva. Later this stud was taken over by his son J.C. Meyer. The stud was commenced with ewes from "STUD PARK NORTH" (Peppin blood) and "HANNATON" rams. Rams were exhibited with success at many local shows and further afield.
"ARONUIE" founded by W.A, Sanders at Sandsmere in 1955 with sheep from the "COLLINSVILLE" stud S.A.
"PARA–BUN" Poll Merino Stud. This stud commenced in 1957 by G.J. Williams with "POLL BOONOKE" N.S.W. rams and ewes from "LILLYMUR ESTATE, "FAIRVIEW". and "ASHROSE" (Collinsville S.A.) In the late 80s, it was a leading Victorian Poll Stud selling up to 200 annually and winning Championship awards. The stud was conducted on the Williams family original selection in the Sandsmere - Miram area and was eventually owned by Gordon, Helene and Roderick Williams.
"RAGLAN' founded in 1957 BY A.D. Wallis and son at Miram with foundation sheep from "BUNDEMAR" stud N.S.W.
"GLENALPINE" at Telopea Downs in 1969 was owned by Glenalpine Pty Ltd and was established on S.A. blood lines. Rams were used mainly within the commercial flock.
"DERRIBONG" Poll Merino was founded by A. E. and S. S. Rowe at Kaniva in 1972, with sheep of "GUM HILL" (blood lines S.A.), using objective measurements as an aid in selection.
"DUENCLIN" Poll Merino Stud commenced by D and G.B. Huxtable in 1972 at South Kaniva using "GUM HILL" (S.A. blood lines) stock.
"BLUE HILLS" was founded by P.P. Thring and Co at Telopea Downs in 1989 "COLLINSVILLE" S.A. blood stock were used at that time. The stud has had good success in recent times. Showing and selling in Adelaide and Hamilton, ram sales. There were many other Stud breeders, not registered, who also sold rams. These were located throughout the district. The sheep bred by Mr. R.L. Hawker of Lillimur were keenly sought, being of "COLLINSVILLE" bloodlines.
"NARIEL" Founded in 1989 by G.H.,E.J. J.G. and A.H. Bennett. with rams and ewes from "GOWANDALE" which was a "COLLINSVILLE" S.A. blood, based stud. (This stud was started at Nhill and later transferred to Lawloit.) "MEADOW-BRIM" Founded by D.L. and S. Vivian in partnership with D.D.and J.A.Merrett at Kaniva in 1975, with sheep of mainly Peppin N.S.W. blood lines from "Glendonald" Vic and "Uardry" N.S.W. Studs.
There were many other Stud breeders, not registered, who also sold rams. These were located throughout the district. The sheep bred by Mr. R.L. Hawker of Lillimur were keenly sought, being of "COLLINSVILLE" bloodlines.
In the 1960s the Kaniva A & P Society, decided to run a Wether competition to encourage sheep breeders to breed the best and test their sheep against others. The team of 3 Wethers were run together on one property and then shorn and the wool weighed and evaluated by a wool expert from one of the wool broking firms of the time. One sheep could be discarded before shearing by the owner. This Wether competition was among the first, if not the first to be run in Victoria, and created much interest, until with poor wool prices and an increase in cropping, it was discontinued in the 1970s.
The Kaniva A & P Society were also leaders in the sheep industry by their encouragement of the art of shearing. A shearing school was conducted each year with Mr. A.G. (Tiny) Hawker as instructor. Many young men from the district and beyond were trained and became professional shearers. When Tiny retired, Mr. Gordon Williams continued to instruct, until the course was discontinued, due to Union demands, and an inability to source suitable sheep at the time of the shearing school, and less interest in shearing.
A new innovation was created when a Field day was held at "LAWLOIT" and later a field day and auction was conducted at "LILLYMUR ESTATE" in association with the "PARA-BUN" Merino Stud. These proved to be well attended and successful. When drought and low wool prices caused less interest, they were discontinued.
In 1980 the first Victorian Stud Merino Field Days were held, this being an idea promoted by stud masters in the Kaniva and Nhill area. Mr. John Meyer of "BUDJIK" stud was elected President of the committee and it was conducted over two days in October. The first day, 25th October was conducted all on property in the Kaniva -Nhill area and the next day some properties in the Horsham - Goroke area were open. Other Studs displayed at Horsham and Balmoral Showgrounds. It was estimated that around 800 people inspected the sheep over the two days. Much interest was shown in Stud Merino Sheep. The format gradually changed over the years, with all of Victoria being involved in some way. In 1985 Mr. Gordon Williams of "PARA-BUN" Poll Merino Stud was President and the Field Days were extended to a four day event involving most of Victoria.
The collapse of the Wool Reserve Scheme for wool in 1990 - 1991 caused great despair and financial ruin to many studs and the rural community also. In early 2000 interest in breeding merino sheep had waned due to very low wool prices and droughts. The demand for Merino rams dropped alarmingly and many studs were sold or discontinued.
In the 1950 - 1980 period, most farms in the district ran Merino sheep as an equal to the cropping programme, but now fewer farmers run sheep all year round as part of their enterprise. A good proportion of local farming land is now cropped continuously with various rotations. However there are several famillies in the district who are committed to improving sheep genetics, both for wool and meat production. With the growth in the lamb market and strengthened wool prices, farmers are now seeing the rewards for their commitment and belief in the industry.
New breeds of sheep have attracted the attention of the younger generation. Commercial breeders have turned to breeding prime lambs as part of farm operations where possible. Younger stud masters have come forward to breed rams for this purpose. The Huxtable family of South Kaniva have a White Suffolk sale each year. Hayden and Michelle Whittlesea of Serviceton also conduct a highly successful sale of White Suffolk, Poll Dorset and Dorper Rams. Darryl Grosser of Serviceton also has an annual sale of White Suffolk and Samm rams. Other breeders are breeding and selling rams in the district.
"As I write this brief history in 2011, I predict a bright future for the sheep industry in this area. High lamb prices and very high wool prices appear to be achievable for many years to come because of the world wide demand for our product, and the vastly depleted national sheep flock from nearly 200 million to about 80 million now."
Gordon J. Williams, former stud master of "Parabun" Poll Merino stud.
Stud history information taken from various publications of the Australian Stud Merino flock register.